New Zealand

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New Zealand. Long known for its pristine environment and eco-friendly policies, this remote country consisting of 2 main and an estimated 600 smaller islands. It’s considered a young country; the indigenous Maori, originally Polynesian, took up residence on these islands in the 13th century, with the European settlers arriving in the late 18th century and signing the Treaty of Waitangi with the Maori in 1840. The nation tends toward a youthful outlook as a result, including self-reliance, self-efficacy, and progressive ideals.

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The Maori marae, or communal space, is a complex of buildings belonging belonging to a particular iwi (tribe), hapu (sub-tribe), or whanau (family). Used for a variety of events as well as educational functions, and carved with or inclusive of many sacred symbols, the space itself represents inclusiveness, security and belonging, and the importance of family — what the Maori call “turangawaewae,” which literally translates as “standing place” + “feet” and means, “the place where we stand and belong.” A deep rootedness.

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Maori values: whanaungtanga, relationships; manakitanga, acceptance; kotahitanga, unity; rangatiratanga, or self’governance; mohiotanga, or knowledge; maramatanga, or perspective; tuakana/teina, mentoring; kaitiakitanga, or responsibility; whakapapa, or heritage/ancestry; wairua, a spiritual well-being; tikanga, or right livelihood, hakari, or celebration; atuatanga, or respect for spirit world; and, mauri, or respect for the life force of every living thing — including oneself.

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Traditionally, Maori women served as warriors and chieftains, had a say in the affairs of their tribe, and could inherit land. Women were revered as “te whare tangata” — the house of humanity, creators of new life; unmarried women had sexual freedom and children born outside of marriage were still considered members of the tribe. The spirit world of the Maori had many female deities and other supernatural beings, including the central creator Papatuanuku and the goddess of the underworld, Hinenuitepo, and the rich mythology places emphasis on the mana, or power, of women. The chin tattoo, or moko kauae, was considered an empowering sign of one’s true identity and status — a practice being revived today. 

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Though European settlers to New Zealand brought with them archaic ideas regarding women’s social status, as far as the indigenous Maori were concerned, they advanced quickly; in 1893, the nation became first in the world to grant women the right to vote. The most prominent leader in this suffrage movement was Kate Sheppard, memorialised here in a Christchurch sculpture which was installed on the centennial anniversary. NZ has achieved remarkable gender equality, now consistently ranked among the top 10 countries and with its 3rd female prime minister — yet with still more progress to be made, notably in the area of abortion law. 

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One of the reasons for both New Zealand’s gender equality and eco-friendly policy might well be seen in the people’s connection to the land — and need for all to contribute equally. As with all indigenous peoples, the Maori lived in harmony with the land and believed in manifest deity; women as givers of life were equated with their female creator deity — and all have a role to play in the agrarian society. The European settlers who came later were typically farmers, and many still are — and famous for their rigorous character, regardless of gender.

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One such environmental initiative of New Zealand can be seen in its system of reservoirs, and treatment plants for lake and river water. Storing rainwater since 1954 and supplying it to citizens at low cost, the country is well prepared for any water crisis. These manmade lakes north of the capital city hold 3 billion litres of water — and are as deep as a 5-storey building. Self-reliance, humanism, and deep ecology at work.

~EWP